Inside it was warm

Skating and coffee

It’s a chilly, grey day in Texas, the kind of day that, anywhere else, would guarantee rain or snow, or both. Here, though, it’s just a thick, cold blanket of clouds that makes everything seem dismal and dreary.

Well, the Christmas lights look awesome in this light…but everything else…

I have just enough of a cold that I’m fatigued and cranky and cannot stay warm. I wanted to actually decorate the Christmas tree, bake something, write something other than a blog post – not that writing here isn’t rewarding, but…


But instead, I’m half-watching a skating special that involves retired Olympic skaters sharing the rink with their children. It’s partly awkward and partly awesome and completely adorable, and if I were the parent of human children instead of the kind with four feet and tails and wet noses that seek my hands whenever they want contact, I’d probably be in tears from the sheer amount of cute.

I have chicken and vegetables becoming soup in the crock pot, and a freshly cleaned bathtub calling my name.

And the tree will still be standing later tonight or tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have John Denver’s “Dearest Esmeralda” playing on a loop in the back of my brain…all this #MusicAdvent stuff has had me revisiting childhood favorites. I love the imagery of that song. And the story.

“We said goodnight in the candlelight and thunder, now I wake and find you’re never there.
I’m becoming old enough to wonder, happy that I’m still too young to care.”

This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen.

Image Copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

Holidailies 2014

Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Or: Why Peter Pan is Played by a Woman

Mary Martin as Peter Pan I have a special place in my heart for Peter Pan, the musical, even though it’s dated, and more than a little racist and sexist. I’m not sure if it’s because both Peter and Tiger Lily are written for alto voices (as someone who is decidedly not-a-soprano, that’s a big thing), or if it’s because it holds such joy and mischief, but for whatever reason, I like the show.

Knowing this, you can safely assume that I tuned in to NBC’s Peter Pan, Live!!! on Thursday night hoping to feel nostalgic about all the times I’d seen the Mary Martin or Mia Farrow versions on TV as a child. It was a holiday tradition: snow would be falling, I’d be in my new nightgown or flannel pajamas, we’d make cocoa and popcorn, and watch the story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up.

You can also safely assume that while I didn’t watch it with the intent to mock, I couldn’t resist turning to Twitter to see what people were saying, especially as the pacing of this production was excruciatingly slow. I mean, seriously, whole planets were formed during the Peter/Hook fight scene.

As is always the case on Twitter, some of the comments were funny, and some were mean, and some perplexed me. Among the things that I found perplexing: there were people who honestly didn’t understand why Peter was being played by a woman. I mean, yes, there were all the lesbian jokes one would expect from, well, Twitter, but there were also people who just Really Didn’t Understand.

I don’t think you can explain the concept of Principal Boy in 140 characters or less.

But I can explain it here, so if you’re one of the people who perplexed me, or know someone who is, this may be helpful.

Peter Pan, the character, is a creation of British author J.M. Barrie. Britain, specifically England, has a tradition of a type of theater called “pantomime,” or, more casually, just, “panto.” This use of ‘pantomime’ has nothing to do with Marcel Marceau, walking-against-the-wind, stuck-in-an-invisible-box silent acting. Instead, it’s a combination of styles drawing from Italy’s Commedia dell’arte, and British music hall traditions. It’s family friendly now, but it often, especially at first, included elements that were quite bawdy.

Now, Pantomime got it’s real start in the early 1800s, when there was already a theatrical tradition for women to play “breeches” or “trouser” roles – women were cast as the romantic male leads – partly because it gave actresses a break from being stuffed into skirts and crammed into corsets, but mostly because even in Victorian England, sex sells, and a woman showing off not just her ankles, but her calves was a big draw.

So, as the late 1800’s approach, you have at least one woman in every troupe who is known as the “principal boy.” She plays the young, male, romantic lead, but she does it without trying to look masculine. Instead, her costume is probably some kind of a short tunic that shows off her curves. Think v-shaped necklines and exposed (but wrapped in leggings or tights) thighs. Until the thirties, roles played by “principal boys” included traditional panto roles like Aladdin and Dick Whittington, and eventually Peter Pan was one of those “breeches roles” as well.

There is some discussion, by the way, about whether or not Peter Pan counts as a true panto – most people would say it’s just a children’s story – but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

The point is, there’s a long tradition of Peter being played by a woman. In fact, he’s only ever been played by a man on Broadway ONCE in the history of the musical, and that was when an understudy went on in place of the lead, during a review.

There was a lot that worked about Thursday’s Peter Pan Live!
There was a lot that didn’t.

Casting a woman as Peter was not one of the things that didn’t work…but I’ll concede that while Allison Williams can sing, she didn’t have enough joy or mischief to really be Peter. (She’d have been awesome as Maria von Trapp, though.)

This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen.

Holidailies 2014

I Hate Blank Books

Coffee and Notes

I’ve been in love with reading ever since I can remember, and in love with writing since at least the age of five, if not earlier. For the sake of the argument, we’ll say five, because that’s when I “published” my first work: a collection of poetry that my mother mimeographed and send ’round to all the relatives. Somewhere, some aunt or cousin probably has a copy of those purple-stained pages covered in my childish scrawl, and I just know it will come back to haunt me someday, but that’s not really the point.

This is: for as long as I’ve been writing, people have been giving me blank books. Well, okay, sometimes they’re not entirely blank. Sometimes they have lines in them, or grid squares, but even when the insides are completely blank, they all have one thing in common: they have been presented to me with the expectation that I will fill them.

There are three problems with this:

  1. I’m not a diarist. If I want “something sensational to read on the train,” to borrow a phrase from Oscar Wilde, I have a Kindle full of books. I have no interest in writing down every tiny detail of my life, and even if I did, I don’t believe in writing things with the intent that they remain private. This blog is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a diary that I’ve managed to sustain, and it’s both open to the public and infrequently updated, Holidailies notwithstanding.
  2. They’re never what I would choose. Honestly, if I were choosing a blank book, it’s more likely to not be a book at all, but a spiral notebook (college ruled, green lines, 500 pages preferred, but I also like those top-bound ones). But no one ever gives me those. Instead, I get gilded pages, stiff bindings, and once a picture of cats. I am so not a cat person.
  3. They won’t get used. Even the moleskines that I did choose are rarely touched anymore, first because I do upwards of 90% of my writing on a computer, and second because anything other than a spiral notebook makes me feel like whatever goes in it has to be good and perfect and ready for publication. To me, those pretty books mean that I’m banned from writing what Anne Lamott calls a “shitty first draft.”

Despite this, and despite the fact that blank books and journals are never on my Christmas wish-lists, I keep receiving them, and then I either have to pretend to use them, re-gift them and hope I don’t give them back to the original giver, or keep them around and call them “art.”

If you really want to make me happy, instead of a blank book, give me candles, bath bubbles, and lotions, because I write better when I get to enjoy long soaks in the tub. Coffees and teas and the associated paraphernalia are always welcome, as are baked goods and homemade art. I’m also a sucker for pretty pens and stationery – I still write actual letters from time to time – and I never turn down chocolate.

Look, I know it’s rude to refuse gifts, but I just can’t handle any more blank books. If you must give me something to write on, a ream of printer paper would be much more sensible, and I promise, it wouldn’t get tucked away in a drawer until the paper crumbles. It would actually get used.

This year, I’m actually PODCASTING my holidailies entries. Go HERE to listen to yesterday’s selection.

Holidailies 2014

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The (Nutcracker) Prince and Me

This post has been included in this year’s Best of Holidailies collection!

A Very Young Dancer

Hi, I’m Melissa, and I’m addicted to The Nutcracker. Oh, not the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, but the ballet based upon the story. You know the one – it has music composed by Tchaikovsky, and everyone trots it out in December.

I blame my Auntie Annette for this addiction. Of course, she wasn’t really my auntie at all, but a dear friend of the family, one who always seemed to waltz, rather than merely walking, wherever she was going, and who always smelled like the forest at Christmas, even though I’m pretty sure the most rural place she ever lived was Connecticut.

Every junkie has a gateway drug, and mine was a book called A Very Young Dancer, by Jill Krementz. It’s not a story, so much as a captioned photo-essay about a young girl named Stephanie, a student at the School of American Ballet, the feeder school for the New York City Ballet, who is cast as Marie in the annual production of – you guessed it – The Nutcracker.

It was Auntie Annette who gave me the book – a book I still have, by the way, the year I was six or seven. (Amazon says the publication date was October 1976, but I’m pretty sure I had it in August. Then again, Auntie Annette had connections so it’s very possible she gave me an advance copy. I have vivid memories of being the first of my friends to know anything about this book.)

Let’s assume my memories are correct, and I was six. I was still taking ballet lessons then, and I have an equally-vivid memory of another aunt’s dog eating my ballet slippers the following summer. But really, it doesn’t matter, that book got me hooked on The Nutcracker, and I remain loyal to it decades after I stopped taking ballet lessons, or, in fact, any kind of dance classes whatsoever.

But isn’t The Nutcracker the first ballet for almost every little girl? I mean, I guess some kids see Coppelia first, but it’s not quite as engaging, or as magical. (By the way, has anyone noticed how many ballets are based on some kind of doll coming to life? Not just ballets, actually, but children’s stories in general.)

My earliest memory of seeing The Nutcracker live is when I was nine and we lived in Arvada, Colorado. My best-friend-at-the-time and I had been in a fight for the weeks leading up to the performance, but our mothers had bought a row of seats for the four of us and her little sister. Each of us, independently, had worked out how our mothers would sit next to each other, with us on their far sides, so we wouldn’t have to talk.

Of course, by the time the actual day came, we’d started speaking again, which both good – because for weeks afterward we did our best to recreate the ballet in their basement bedroom – and bad – because my mother worked with one of the dancers, or knew her mother, and had arranged for us to go backstage, and that meant I had to share the experience.

My addiction was cemented at that point.

Since then, I’ve seen numerous productions, both live, and on video. San Francisco Ballet’s version is one of my favorites, but I grew up on PBS’s annual airing of the ABT version with Mikhail Baryshnikov & Gelsey Kirkland, and that’s still the one I know best. I’ve seen the movie that was made out of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s version (which features sets designed by Maurice Sendak. (Yes, that Maurice Sendak.) It’s a favorite as well, and just the other night I was watching a version of the NYC Ballet’s interpretation that was filmed years ago, and features a Home Alone era Macaulay Culkin as the Nutcracker/Prince.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to see different things in the different versions of the story.
For example, Marie (who is sometimes Clara), is often played by a child, as is, in fact, the Nutcracker Prince. These interpretations usually have lots of children in the first act, and very few in the second (only those who pop out from under Mother Ginger’s skirt), while Marie and the Prince pretty much just watch Act II from a throne all the way upstage.

Other interpretations use an adult dancer as Marie/Clara, or at least an older teenager, and play up her budding romance with the Nutcracker/Prince. Sometimes they even get an Act II pas de deux.

The Nutcracker/Prince is often introduced in the Act I party scene as Drosselmeier’s apprentice or nephew, which means that, if Drosselmeier isn’t merely an ‘affectionate’ uncle, Marie and the boy are kissing cousins.

A rare few interpretations (and Pacific Northwest Ballet is one of them) add a dash of unresolved sexual tension between Marie/Clara and Drosselmeier. (There’s a fanfic waiting to be written.)

I haven’t catalogued all the details of every production, obviously, but I do know this: during December there is a version of the Nutcracker playing somewhere almost every day. In the next two weeks, my DVR will be recording at least six different productions, only one of which I’ve seen before. There are at least seven local live productions of the ballet happening in the same time period, within 30 miles of my house. (I might drag Fuzzy to one. He’s never been.)

I prefer the live performance experience: the thrill when the overture starts to play, the way the audience always gasps when the Christmas tree starts to grow (which is really Marie/Clara shrinking, of course, but…it’s still cool), the little girls all dressed up for what is, for many, their first time in a real theater, and the obligatory trip to get hot chocolate (when I was a kid) or Irish Coffee (now) afterward. I love the pure dancing in Act II, when the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with her cavalier, and the Dew Drop Fairy dances with her flowers.

But even if we don’t make it to a live performance, I’m looking forward to having a few dates with my Nutcracker Prince over the weeks between now and Christmas. He’ll bring the great music and muscular thighs, and I’ll bring coffee, Danish butter cookies, and my appreciation of the arts.

And when Christmas comes, and the magic is over for a year (because a post-Christmas Nutcracker is just as sad as the early morning walk-of-shame after a poorly chosen one-night stand) I’ll put my Nutcracker, the one sent to me from Germany, back in its box, and focus once more on more contemporary stories.

But only until next year, of course.

I mean, you can only go so long until your next “fix.”

Holidailies 2014

Black & White (From Music of Conscious to Melody for the Masses)

This year for Holidailies, I’m also podcasting daily through the month of December. Click HERE to visit my podcast site, and listen to yesterday’s entry.

Pete Seeger

My #MusicAdvent pick for today, from 1972, was another Three Dog Night song, one I mentioned a couple of days ago: “Black and White.” My two-year-old self probably fell in love with the catchy melody and watered-down message of unity. Hey, I come from a progressive, liberal family. What else would you expect?

It’s a song that has stayed with me most of my life, partly because of it’s innocent optimism, and partly because it’s just fun to sing. And hear. And bop around the house to. In my head, when I hear this song I’m six or seven, with golden-brown hair that borders on being strawberry, and thick braids, and a summer tan, and sand in my shoes. I have memories of having a family friend, one who was trained as a classical musician, to play it on his organ (and we’re not talking a cheap electric organ, but one of those room-filling instruments with pull-out stops for different sounds, and a dual keyboard, and…yeah).

So, yesterday, when I went looking for the songs of my first few years of life, I investigated the history of this song (thank you, Wikipedia), and learned that Three Dog Night’s version, while immensely popular, is a cover of a song that was written by David Arkin and Earl Robinson, and first recorded by…wait for it…Pete Seeger.

No, really, it’s a folk song.

In fact, it’s a folk song about Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which ended segregation in public schools.

Here is one of the verses that the popular version omits:

Their robes were black, their heads were white
The schoolroom doors were closed so tight
Were closed up tight

Nine judges all, set down their names
To end the years and years of shame
Years of shame

And here is another:

Oh, the slate is black, the chalk is white
The words stand out so clear and bright
So clear and bright

And now at last, we plainly see
The alphabet of liberty

The activist part of me likes the original better. It has more depth, tells a better story, and makes sense.

But the Three Dog Night version is the one that turns into an earworm, probably because they based their version on a reggae-inspired cover by a British band, and that freshens the melody, and adds syncopation that the original didn’t have.

But it loses the message.

Want to compare them yourself?

Here’s the Pete Seeger version:

And here’s Three Dog Night:

Which one do you prefer…and why?

Holidailies 2014

#MusicAdvent – Music and Coffee (and More Music)

This year for Holidailies, I’m also podcasting daily through the month of December. Click HERE to visit my podcast site, and listen to yesterday’s entry.

Joy to the World

The first song I remember hearing on the radio is Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” It was released in November, 1972, or about three months after my 2nd birthday. Something about either the imagery (my story) or the cadence (my mother’s story) of the “clouds in my coffee” refrain stuck in my toddler-brain. Perhaps this means Ms. Simon is to blame for my coffee habit. After all, until I was a teenager, my mother drank instant. (Yeah, I know, the thought is truly frightening.)

The first pop songs I remember asking musician friends to play, or humming on my own were a kind of eclectic batch that included Donovan’s “Happiness Runs” (they taught it to us in school, Shaun (yes, you read that right, Shaun) Cassidy’s “Teen Dream” (which album my mother would not let my then seven-year-old self have, claiming I was ‘too young’), and 3 Dog Night’s “Black and White” which, interestingly, is also from 1972. This is relevant only because I told another Holidailies blogger that I was pretty sure no one actually remembered music from their ACTUAL FIRST YEAR OF LIFE, and, indeed, while I may have since learned music from my birth year, 1970, I don’t have any organic memories of commercial songs from before I was two.

Why am I talking about this at all? Because:
a) I love music. I mean, there are times when I think in music. If there was a movie of my life, it would be a musical.
b) One meme at a time isn’t enough, and so many people mentioned this #MusicAdvent thing that I’ve caved and decided to play.

I’m not entirely certain of the rules, but apparently you share a song that matters to you every day during Advent, and this year, people are supposed to begin with their year of birth, and post song from each of their first twenty-five years of life…which means if you’re under twenty-five years old, you’re kind of screwed, I guess, or you can just make up your own rules.

Anyway, since it started yesterday, I’ve got two songs for today.

Day 1: The Carpenters, “Close to You,” the number one single from the week of 15 August 1970 (I was born on the 17th).

Day 2: The song from my birthday week is the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” but it’s not a song I really like, and there were so many good songs from 1971, so I’m going with Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” because it never fails to make me grin, and it was on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in the summer of ’71.

Holidailies 2014

Happy Holidailies

This year for Holidailies, I’m also podcasting daily through the month of December. Click HERE to visit my podcast site, and listen to yesterday’s entry.

Coffee Spa Ever since I first heard about this ‘Holidailies’ thing several years ago (about a decade, I think) I’ve anticipated the beginning of December. It’s become more than a meme, more than yet another project added to the ton of things going on in December. It’s become a sort of annual reunion where I reconnect, not just with a daily writing practice, but also with the other people who also participate every year. It’s like getting a holiday newsletter that I actually want to read.

On the other hand, it’s nice to meet new people, too, so, even though I don’t typically do intro-posts, here’s the brief on MissMeliss

– I call myself the Bathtub Mermaid, because I was born near the beach, but leave farther from one than is practical for frequent visits. Most of my best ideas come from the time I spend steeping in the tub.
– I used to refer to this blog as both “escribition” and “uber-caffeinated.” I write this blog as an open journal, because I don’t do well with personal diaries.
– I’m a voracious reader, I bleed coffee and tea (they alternate), I have four dogs of my own, plus a foster, and I talk about them a lot. I hate reality tv, all the negative ‘isms’ that enlightened people always hate (racism, sexism, etc.), and bok choy.
– I use social media, but at the same time, I think our addiction to being plugged in has hurt our ability to be kind to each other. I believe we simply know too much of the surface stuff.
– My approach to religion and spirituality is kind of fluid. I’m kind of a questioning Episcatarian (that’s my combination of Episcopalian and Unitarian) with humanist tendencies and a culturally Catholic background.
– I don’t do selfies, and when I travel, I don’t always take pictures because there are times when being IN the moment is more important than capturing an IMAGE of the moment.
– I love to cook and bake, and usually find excuses to give away most of what I bake.
– Hot baths, hot coffee, good books, cuddly dogs, and time with my husband are some of my favorite things in life. Not necessarily in that order.

Holidailies 2014

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Sunday Brunch: School Figures


It’s my turn for Sunday Brunch again over at All Things Girl.

Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve been thinking, lately, about how I used to be a daily blogger, and now my blog is nearly an afterthought. I still write every day, but it’s typically writing for a specific purpose, not just chatty musing. I don’t keep a journal, partly because I don’t understand the point in writing things no one will ever read, and partly because without an audience to keep me accountable, I find other things that pull my focus.

But daily blogging, in many ways, was my version of skating school figures. They’re not particularly pretty to the uninformed, but they teach discipline, help you hone technique, give you stamina…and sometimes you do something when practicing a basic figure that informs or inspires a larger piece – leads you to your long program.

You can read the rest of this post HERE.

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Sunday Brunch: The Art of Procrastination

ritual bath

My Sunday Brunch post is up at All Things Girl. Here’s an excerpt:

Here is an example of how not-writing works in my brain:

‘I should be working on Sunday Brunch. But I don’t know what to write about. There are all those notes on the post-Odile piece about getting news from fishing reports. Fishing reports. Oh, there’s a new episode of the Seascapes podcast tonight. Tonight. Dinner. Fish. Salmon. There’s salmon in the freezer. Is it wild-caught? Of course it is, why would I buy anything else? What should I make with it? I think we have beets and yams. There was that recipe I saw in that magazine. Beets and yams in hash. Hash. Hash-browns. We have leftover hash-brown casserole. Maybe I should eat something. If I eat I’ll be able to focus better. Focus. Film. Movie. Stephen King’s IT is in my Amazon queue. Tim Curry was so creepy in that movie. Tim Curry. Clue. Wadsworth. One plus two plus two plus one. No, it’s one plus one plus two plus one. One. Singular Sensation. Musical. Rocky Horror. Time Warp. Time. Ack! I should be working on Sunday Brunch.’

So, yeah, that’s my brain on…not-words, I guess.

Read the rest of the piece HERE

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Coffee Pot Puttering

autumn brew

Despite the fact that I spent a good chunk of it tracking down the bits and pieces necessary to rebuild my mother’s website, today was an almost perfect autumn day. The weather was nicely blustery, and pleasantly cool. The air was clean from last night’s driving rain. The dogs were able to play outside most of the afternoon.

And I?

I moved my laptop to the kitchen table, brewed a pot of chicory coffee from Cafe du Monde, and did my work between gifts of muddy paw prints and sloppy puppy kisses.

As I posted on ello the other day: Cry pumpkin! And unleash the (roasted, with garlic salt) seeds of squash!

I love October!

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